Thursday, March 28, 2013

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Part 4 - The Soil Among the Thorns — “Distracted With a Lust for the Present World”

Introduction:
Jesus is the master teacher. His illustrations are rich, picturesque, understandable, and undeniably clear. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (called the “synoptics” from Greek two words that mean ‘seeing together’) all provide a particular discourse that Jesus gave in northern Israel while sitting in a bot on the Sea of Galilee while the masses stood before him on the shore and on the surrounding hillside. Many heard this teaching. His hearers were gripped by the illustration and the spiritual meaning of this parable.

In the story, Jesus spoke of a man who went out to sow seed and some of the scattered seed fell beside the road where the birds quickly swooped down and ate it up. Other seed came upon rocky ground where it did not have much soil. It did, however, spring up quickly but because it had no moisture and no depth of soil, when the run rose up it scorched the little sprout and it immediately withered away.

Jesus then mentions other seed that fell among the thorns and the thorns came up and choked the scattered seed and the little sprouts that arose and thus it yielded no crop.


Explanation:
Jesus has taken the time to explain the meaning of his story to his hearers. He told them that the sower who sows seed is akin to the person who sends forth the Word of God upon the ground of people’s hearts. There are many kinds of hearers of God’s Word. Some are like the seed that fell beside the road where the birds came and took the seed away since they hear the Word but it does not affect them at all. Satan comes and snatches the Word away from them so that they do not understand, apply, and believe what they’ve heard to be saved. Still others, Jesus likens to the seed that falls on rocky places who hear the Word and immediately, impulsively, and visibly receive it with joy. Yet they have no firm root; they are temporary. When hardship, persecution because of the Word and their new-found faith arises, they fall away and thus show themselves to be unsaved because true faith is a persevering faith.

Now Jesus transitions to a third category of people who hear the Word of God. In the story, which of course everyone could relate to in the familiar agrarian way of life in Galilee, Jesus speaks of some scattered seed which falls to the ground but the thorns come up, choke it, and the seed which sprouted yields no crop at all.

When Jesus was asked what this story meant, He provided the explanation. There are people who hear the Word which was sown but the worries of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the Word (Mark 4:18-19). Thus, it becomes unfruitful and withers away (Mark 4:19). Luke notes that the thorns grew up with the seed that fell to the ground and eventually choked it out (Luke 8:7). It appears that Jesus here speaks of the person who hears the Word as it is “scattered” and they appropriate the Word to their hearts and lives for a season since Jesus says “as they go on their way” (Luke 8:14). But this kind of person endeavors to live a double-life. This person wants to enjoy the religiousness of hearing the Word of God and living with the Word of God while at the same time clinging to the worries of this world, the riches of this life, and the pleasures of the flesh. Sadly, this person cannot remain true to Christ while adhering to the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life and so, as Jesus Himself clearly states, they “bring no fruit to maturity” (Luke 8:14) and thus show themselves to be unsaved.

To understand this kind of “hearer” of the Word, a number of points characterize this person:

First, the worries of the world choke out the Word of God. Jesus says that one of the thorns that can choke out the Word of God from the heart of a hearer of divine truth is the all consuming nature of the worries of this world. Worry kills trust. Worry disregards faith. Worry slaughters assurance. Many are those who hear the Word as the preacher faithfully imparts the truth of Scripture and yet they find themselves overwhelmingly intertwined with the consuming, unending, threatening, and dominating worries of this age. Anxiety plagues many people. So widespread is anxiety that many modern-day psychotropic drugs are prescribed to help those in such situations. Anxiety and worry is not a disorder, it’s a sin. Psychotropic drugs cannot solve the real, ultimate problem of worry and anxiety. It cannot bring the solution. Indeed, it cannot for it only superficially reaches a temporary result. Drugs cannot get to the heart. However, the Word of God can!

The person who finds himself plagued with worry and anxiety must remember the gracious, loving, and strong help that is available to him in the Word of God, by the power of the Spirit, and through fervent, frequent, undying prayer. Jesus Himself commanded His followers: “do not worry” (Matt 6:31). Later he said: “do not worry for each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt 6:34). God’s people must not worry about their lives (Luke 12:22). God says in the Word of God that all believers must “be anxious for nothing” (Phil 4:6). The solution to a life of worry, anxiety and fear is a complete replacement with new habits that need to be formed that includes prayer, supplication, thanksgiving and letting requests be made known to God (Phil 4:6). So powerful is this exchange of putting off worry, fear, and anxiety and replacing it with a heartfelt trust and a frequent life of prayer that the peace of God will guard the hearts of God’s people when they appropriate this (Phil 4:7).

But sadly, as the case can be for many, they hear the Word as it is sown and yet the worries of the world, the tumultuous troubles, and the overwhelming anxieties choke out the Word and they become unfruitful, unfaithful, and thus evidence themselves over time to be unsaved.

What causes you to worry? What plagues you? What do you do with your fears? How do you cope when worrisome situations attack you? When the large army of fear comes knocking at your heart’s fortress, what do you do? Who do you run to? Where do you turn? Is your solution in medication? Or do you find yourself overcome, conquered, defeated, enslaved to, and inextricably linked to your worry? Do finances plague you? Does the next mortgage worry you? Do your children keep you up at night as you worry about them and fear for their future? Have you ever noted that worry at its root is self-worship because worry is a lack of trust in God and an attempt to trust in self.

Second, the deceitfulness of riches choke out the Word of God. Money can be deceptive. If one sets his heart upon it he is unwise as it can quickly take up the wings of a bird and fly away never to be seen, felt, and deposited again (Prov 23:5). If riches increase, do not set your heart upon them (Ps 62:10). The lust for money is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim 6:10). Riches can deceive the hearts of people as they may truly believe that the more money they have, the better their life will be. The more hours you work and the larger that the paycheck is, the happier you and your family will be. After all, as some over-worked and ever-too-busy husbands say, “I must provide for my wife & family and give them what they want, right?” Wrong.

Riches cannot bring happiness. Riches can be a blessing to a person who has a proper perspective on heavenly things and knows that God owns all riches anyway. But this is not the norm. Many believe that riches equals happiness. Success in work means success in life. Lots of money to bring home must mean lots of happiness in the home. But these common ways of thinking are erroneous, wrong, unbiblical, and devastating.

There is a deceptiveness about money that the Bible warns against repeatedly. King Solomon fell prey to this when he hoarded up money and then walked away from God for most of his adult life (1 Kings 11; Eccl 5). Everything in life is from God (Rom 11:36) and everything belongs to Him anyway. Nothing is ever really ours. To seek happiness in riches means to forfeit true and lasting happiness in Christ. After all, no one can serve to masters, no one can serve both God and money (Matt 6:24; Luke 16:13). 

Why do you work? What do you do with God’s money that you bring home each pay period? If you showed your recent credit card statement, bank statement, and all the credit cards you have with your name on them, what would that reveal about your attitude toward God’s money that He entrusts to you? Do you lust for more? Why? Are you unhappy with what God has graciously given to you? A relentless lust and a persistent passion for more money for bigger, better, more comfortable things reveals a god in your heart called greed. Find the greed in your heart, seek the Lord’s face, humbly beg for His grace and forgiveness and plead by His strength and power to shun the dominating and deceitful passion for more riches.

Third, the desires and lusts for material things and pleasures choke out the Word of God. Jesus notes something that is common to every single human being who has ever lived. Everyone has desires, cravings, passions, “lusts”. There are some who hear the Word of God as it is taught and proclaimed and yet they find themselves having “desires” or “lusts” or “strong wishes for” material things — or, as it could be rendered: “the rest of the things.” Coveting for more is the craving of this person’s soul. The greediness for more goods becomes the god of this person’s life. The false notion that more stuff (the “rest”) will bring delight, fulfillment, happiness, joy, contentment, and a better life destroys many just as it has destroyed many through the ages. The word Jesus uses is the idea of a strong desire that can easily become a consuming desire. The New Testament often uses the word to identify sexual lust.

One of the judgments of God is when He gives people over to the “lusts of their hearts” (Rom 1:24). A born-again Christian is one who is called by God to not let sin reign in his mortal body in order to obey its lusts (Rom 6:12). A true Christian is taught by God to put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the lust of the flesh (Rom 13:14). If a person truly is saved is walking by the Spirit, he will never fulfill the lusts of the flesh (Gal 5:16). Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh along with its passions and lusts (Gal 5:24). When a person is lured away by his own lust and he is tempted and gives into sin (James 1:14).

What do you lust for? What can you not live without? What would you be hopeless without if it were taken away from you? What would make you so elated and happy if it were given to you? What are you working for? Longing for? Saving up for? What pleasures to you give into repeatedly? Does the lust for more sexual lust lure you away frequently? Does pornography exist at the top of your pursuits? Do you crave for more excitement? More stuff? More pleasure? More things that this world can offer you? Remember, if you were meant to receive true, happy, eternal pleasures here, then this would be your heaven. But this world cannot satisfy and the things of this world only leave empty. Jesus Christ alone satisfies. That is why heaven is so sweet and the certainty of being with Jesus Christ forever is the sweetest song to the Christian’s soul!

Jesus so clearly says that a person cannot live with an ongoing, unrestrained, warless life giving in to the lusts for more “things”. This person who hears the Word and yet gives himself to wanton pleasures, ongoing greediness, and a life of coveting proves himself to be unfruitful and thus unsaved. For how could he bear fruit when he is constantly following the impulses of his mind, heart, and eyes and giving into his passions, cravings, and lusts to bring him happiness. Only Jesus Christ can satisfy sufficiency, joyfully, and eternally.

Fourth, the neglect to diligently appropriate the killing of sin chokes out the Word of God. Another description of this kind of person who hears the Word as it is sown is the person who hears and as he goes on his way he is choked with the worries, riches, and pleasures of this life. In other words, the point that Jesus emphasizes here in this wording is that the person lives life with both remaining sin and the desire to walk with God. But it doesn’t work; indeed, it cannot work. This person hears the Word regularly and then lives life without any spiritual zeal, without any pursuit of holiness, without an intentional and aggressive passion for Christlikeness. In essence, this person goes to Church, hears the Word, and then lives life without any true, lasting, ongoing, sanctified change. Where there is no change, there is no growth. Where there is no Christlike growth there is no godly fruitbearing. Where there is no godly fruitbearing there is no salvation.

What a shocking phrase to hear Jesus describe this “hearer” as one who goes through his ‘religious’ life while intermingling that with a constant life of worries, riches, and pleasures of this world. They cannot coexist. Walking in the Spirit is different from gratifying the desires of the flesh. They are both mutually exclusive. There is no joining them together in life. They cannot hold hands.


Conclusion:
This teaching of Jesus must have shaken his hearers! O how they must have stopped and examined their own hearts! How have they heard the teaching of Christ — the very Word of God itself? And the same question demands our answer as well. How do you hear the Word as it is sown? Are you like the seed that falls to the ground yet it is sown among thorns that soon choke out the preached Word? Does anxiety characterize you? Does a life of ongoing, persistent, consuming worry control your life? Are you frazzled daily because the worries of this world are chained to your heart, mind, and soul? Do you passionately desire more riches? Does a craving for more goods drive your tireless hours on the job so as to receive overtime and greater wages? Do you desire more money in the hopes that money will brighten your life as you live more luxuriously, comfortably, materially, prominently and prestigiously? What characterizes your greatest desires? What do you long for the most in life? What are your foremost passions in life? What do you live for?

O guard your heart, dear reader! O examine your soul, dear reader! O test yourself and the way that you hear the Word of God as it comes into your ears and see whether you are in the faith! If you are characterized by frightening fear and incessant worry, if left unchecked it will choke out the Word of God sown in you. If you passionately crave riches, honor, prestige, luxury, goods, possessions, and ‘stuff’, be warned — O be not deceived! — that you cannot serve both God and money. It is utterly an impossibility for you to worship, live for, lust after, and crave for both the one true God and the pursuit and pleasure of wealth. Nothing more surely reveals where your heart really is than an honest examination of your attitude toward money. Nothing is more outwardly meaningless, more eternally insignificant, and more inwardly revealing the state of your heart than money itself.

May the grace of God work in your heart so that the Word that you hear affects your life! Do not be a hearer but not a doer. Do not be deceived! A distracted person with a lust for the present world who remains in that state of worldliness will soon find that the Word of God which he has heard is choked out of his heart, his mind, his life, and his soul. May you see your condition if this describes you! May you run in repentance to the Redeemer Himself for grace, mercy and pardon! May you find that the Savior is eternally rich in saving love for those whom He has elected! See your peril and flee to Christ! See the vanity of worldliness and fly to Christ without looking back! Linger no longer and look to the LORD! Procrastinate no more and pursue the kindness of God revealed in Christ as He received the crushing and eternal blows of sin’s penalty as the Father slaughtered Him and crushed Him on Calvary’s cross. See the crucified One, the risen One, the Conquering One and the sovereign Savior and find life, joy, satisfaction and true pleasure only in Him.


Part 5, the final section of the series, will come tomorrow...

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